Marijuana aficionados may be rejoicing in Colorado and Washington, now that voters have passed state laws for legal pot. But experts say, tread with caution. For now, there is no guarantee that federal prosecutors still won’t crack down on users, growers and sellers.
Legal pot laws pass
Tuesday, Colorado voters passed Amendment 64. A similar initiative, I-502, passed in Washington state. Both ostensibly give state lawmakers a year to determine regulations and structure for a new industry of legal, recreational marijuana. However, federal prosecutors have no such time limit to challenge any portion of the laws in a lawsuit.
Still illegal federally
Although marijuana is not medically classified as a narcotic, federal laws place it in the same category as heroin and cocaine, fairly or unfairly. The popular drug still remains illegal on a federal level.
Federal prosecutors in Colorado and Washington told CNNMoney on Wednesday that the Administration’s position on marijuana enforcement remains unchanged, in spite of the new laws. The Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency are even now reviewing the new laws for points of challenge.
Joshua Kappel, a Denver attorney sympathetic to the cause, advised citizens to take “a very cautious approach.”
Agents from the department of Justice have already raided and closed dispensaries in both states, even though they were in compliance with the states’ medical marijuana laws.
The sticky and the icky
Dave Schwaab, who ran a medical marijuana dispensary in Fort Collins, Colo., saw his business raided and closed down by federal agents last year, even though he was following the state’s laws to the letter.
Schwaab said he was reluctant to face such losses again, even under the new law. He said:
“I adhered to every legal state regulation, all 165 pages of unambiguous requirements. … Even though this wonderful amendment passed, I might not go back into business because of the legal quagmire. They took my capital once. I’m not going to let them do it again.”
Those Colorado and Washington entrepreneurs hoping to open a dispensary and clean up may also encounter resistance from banks when seeking a loan. Banks are leery of such investments, worried that they might become implicated later in federal legal proceedings.
At least a year to implement
Should the laws hold up to a legal challenge — which may be played out in the U.S. Supreme Court — residents of either state should not expect to see sanctioned retail dispensaries until December of next year at the earliest.
Many believe other states will follow Colorado and Washington, and eventually the federal government will have to relax its anti-pot stance. Colorado and Washington’s new laws may be a step forward, but they will have to gain much momentum before marijuana users can relax entirely.